Having a child with special needs can create daunting challenges for families.
Beyond not knowing what to do, it’s also hard to know who can help.
It can be confusing for families when they move into a new school district, explains Stephanie Long, assistant director of student support programs and services for Pasco County Schools.
People arrive in the district and they say: “I’m new to Pasco, what do I need?”
“I don’t understand your programs. I’m coming from another state. I’ve never heard this terminology? What do I do?”
Long directs new families to the public school district’s website, where there is a page that’s specifically built to give parents a step-by-step guide to information, covering all of the basic needs for all students.
Plus, it gives parents a good start to find out what the district’s Exceptional Student Education (ESE) services and programs are for students with special needs.
The district also shares information about other resources available in the community, or through state partnerships.
The best place to start, according to Long, is at the Parents tab on the district’s website (Pascok12.fl.us). Then, parents can scroll down that page to a link called SSPS Resources.
“It immediately opens up to all of the parent resources,” Long said.
If you click on the ESE Guide, for instance, you’ll find information to help you navigate the world of special programs.
“This basically gives the alphabet soup of all of the different acronyms that we throw around in our world. A glossary of all of the terms that we use,” she said.
It also explains the district’s continuum of services for its ESE students.
Special services can vary from place to place, so this gives parents an idea of what to expect in Pasco.
Another resource, provided through the district, is a quarterly meeting intended to give parents a chance to identify topics of need, or interest, and to work collaboratively with other parents and the school district to address them.
Jennifer Hykes, senior supervisor of special programs, runs that group.
Historically, participation has been lower than the district would like, but the numbers are improving as a result of marketing and outreach efforts.
“We really want these meetings to be collaborative. We want to hear what the needs are and what they (parents) want,” Hykes said.
Identifying needs is the first step toward developing a plan to address them, she said.
The sessions give parents an opportunity to learn about various topics.
And, if they have specific questions, this is a good place to get them answered.
“We always have a Q & A session at the end,” Hykes said. “I stay on as long as needed.”
Another way to find out more about available resources would be to attend Superintendent Kurt Browning’s Family Forum on Safety and Security. (See accompanying info box).
The forum is set up to provide information on various safety and security topics, but there also will be representatives from various service providers and community organizations to answer questions and provide information.
Those representatives can help clue in parents regarding sources of help that may be useful to them.
Pasco County School Board member Colleen Beaudoin, who has extensive experience in dealing with issues relating to children with special needs, also provided some guidance that may be useful for parents of ESE students.
She shared those thoughts during a recent Laker/Lutz News interview involving her, Long and Hykes.
It’s no secret that many parents may feel overwhelmed as they try to figure out what’s best for their special needs’ kids.
Beaudoin suggested this simple way to get started: “If you have a concern, request a meeting with your school.”
Once a meeting is scheduled, it’s good to be prepared, Beaudoin said. Take a notebook and any relevant documentation, she advised.
Keep a positive attitude, too, Beaudoin said.
“I think some parents do feel that they really need to go in (to a meeting about their child), in defense mode,” the school board member said.
One excellent source of information for parents is the Florida Diagnostic and Learning System, FDLRS for short, Beaudoin said.
Families can submit questions and receive information, typically within 24 to 48 hours, Long said.
Hykes said it’s important to know that many questions and concerns can be answered or resolved at the school level. She recommends that families have a list of contact names and numbers, to know who they should call, if an issue arises.
At the school level, the list should include the teacher, the case manager (if there is one) and the principal. Beyond that, the district has a list of program supervisors, which is available on its website.
Another place to find some easy-to-understand information about Florida’s ESE services is the Florida’s MTSS. The acronym stands for multi-tiered systems of support for families.
The parent guide explains that school districts must provide a certain procedure to ensure that they’ve implemented intervention, and to ensure that the students had a poor response to that intervention, before the district says that a student has a disability, Long said.
She also pointed out a program called Project 10, a program that focuses on transition.
“For those students with disabilities, how do we help them transition to post-secondary opportunities? How do we provide greater opportunities for students with disabilities to have greater outcomes when they leave us and they go on to postsecondary?” Long said.
Superintendent’s Family Forum on Safety and Security
- Pasco Middle School, 13925 14th St., Dade City, on Jan. 24, doors open at 5 p.m.; event starts at 5:30 p.m.
- Fivay High School, 12115 Chicago Ave., , on Jan. 31, doors open at 5 p.m.; event starts at 5:30 p.m.
Breakout sessions will include:
- School safety in Pasco County
- Data security in a connected society
- Handling threats in schools
- Suicide prevention for students
- Accessing student services
Community resources available on:
- Mental health
- Student supports
- Student services
- Community supports
Free child care is available for children ages 4 through 10. Light refreshments will be provided, too. To register, visit SuperintendentsFamilyForum1.sched.com/.
Exceptional Student Education (ESE) Services
To help you acclimate to services and programs designed for students who have special needs, here are some places to go to get more information. Some services and programs are provided by Pasco County Schools and some are provided through partnerships or community organizations.
To get started, go to the Pasco County Schools’ website, at Pasco.k12.fl.us. Once there, click on the Parents tab. Then scroll down to Student Support Services.
Then, check out information provided in these categories:
- Center for Autism Related Disorders (CARD)
- ESE Parent Guide
- ESE Parent Collaborative Network
- ESE Programs and Resources
- Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resources System (FDLRS), click on Parent Services link
- FLDOE Exceptional Student Education, click on link for Parent Information page
Published January 18, 2023